Soave, a perfect vino to chaperone meatballs

ISACS is the founder and CEO of EnjoyGourmet, a leading gourmet digital (www.enjoygourmet.com.cn) and print media company in China. He has authored over a dozen wine and food books including the awarded ISACS Guides and other gourmet books and is a wine consultant to governments, wine regions and organizations. He also hosts wine events for leading organizations and companies throughout China. Contact John via jcolumn@enjoygourmet.com.

What true foody doesn’t love meatballs? When construed in the broadest accepted epicurean nomenclature; meatballs may consist of almost anything including meat, fish, vegetable-based mock meat and thereby also appeal to non-meat eaters and vegetarians. Therefore, it’s fair to say that everyone loves meatballs.

Meatballs have been a mainstay of many gourmet cultures for thousands of years. The tradition most likely originated as a way to stretch meager portions of tougher cuts of meat into something more sustaining, delicious and appealing. The solution was to mash, grind or cut up the meats, add bulk and flavors enhancing ingredients and make into a visually appealing ball. Voila, the meatball!

Today all types and cuts of meats, as well as other ingredients, are used to make meatballs. In China, pork, fish, shellfish, tofu, mushrooms and other vegetables are popular ingredients while deep-frying, boiling, steaming and braising are common methods of cooking. Keeping in mind the diverse ingredients and cooking methods, what style of wine is most meatball friendly? My solution brings us to the scenic hills of Veneto in Northeast Italy.

Soave

The Soave area is home to some of Italy’s most scenic landscapes and breathtaking fortresses. The majestic Medieval castle fort is perched over the historic town which in turn is surrounded by vineyards. Collectively it’s a paradise for travelers and wine lovers. Wines have been made here since pre-Roman times and the region was one of the first in Italy to receive DOC status in 1968.

During the second half of the 20th century Soave became Italy’s most successful white wine. When I first started tasting and studying wines in the US if there was a bottle of Italian white wine on the table it was most likely Soave. By the mid-1990s Soave was producing 6 million cases of wine but unfortunately much of the production was from bulk producing cooperatives that made insipid wines using high yield grapes from the flatlands outside of the traditional Classico region. This overproduction hurt the Soave brand and many consumers turned to newly popular wines like Pinot Grigio or New World Sauvignon Blanc.

Two decades ago a number of small family-owned wineries started emphasizing higher quality wines using grapes from the hillside vineyards of the Classico area. As a result, Soave is slowly regaining its historic position as Italy’s premier white wine.

By law all Soave wines must be made with a minimum of 70 percent Garganega grapes, though many of the best wines are made exclusively of the grape. DNA typing tests by ampelographers indicate that the Garganega variety is a genetic match to the Grecanico variety of Sicily leading some to speculate that the grape may had made its way north thousands of years ago.

Typical Soave wines offer lovely peach, honeydew melon, citrus and pear aromas and flavors with hints of minerals and bitter almond. All good Soaves feature a solid acidic backbone that makes this one world’s most food-friendly wines.

Soave is perfect with raw and cooked seafood, most pastas and pizzas as well as white meats and cheeses. In China, I recommend Soave wines with a wide range of cuisines from Cantonese dim sum to medium spicy Sichuan dishes. Not surprisingly Soave is a natural partner to many styles of Chinese meatballs including lion’s head meatballs, fish balls and vegetarian balls.

There are three things to remember when picking a Soave wine, namely producer, producer and producer. In the hands of a skilled and dedicated winemaker the Garganega grape can make great wines but the high yield propensity of the variety also means there are some quite ordinary wines. Therefore, you should always pick wines from top producers and it just so happens that one of the leading men of Soave and a major figure Italian wines is visiting Shanghai this week. Arturo Strocchetti is President of the Soave Consortium and also UVIVE Consortium as well as owner of Cantina del Castello.

Arturo’s boutique winery is located in the heart of Soave’s old town under the impressive dominating perch of Castello di Soave. The winery’s vineyards are ideally situated on the elevated hilltops of the Classico region creating a perfect environment for the Garganega grapes to slowly mature.

This winery is a family affair and Arturo’s daughter Giulia who is one of Italy’s youngest and most talented sommeliers is also deeply involved with the business.

The results of this family team are some of the most elegant, complex and textured Soave wines. Other top Soave Classico producers who have wines in Shanghai are Gini, Pieropan and Ca’Rugate. It’s certainly true that most of the best Soave wines come from the Classico region, but some delightful wines also come from outside the historic region.

One fine example is the family-owned Soave producer La Cappuccina. Their 100 percent Garganega organic Soave wine offers lively floral and almond aromas and delicate fruit flavors. Personally, when choosing Soave wines I prefer to stick to Soave specialists but some large companies like Tommasi, Masi and Sartori that better known for their Valpolicella red wines also make good examples and these wines are relatively easy to find in Shanghai.

Where to buy in Shanghai

Varieties: Gargenega is the most important grape in Soave comprising a minimum of 70 percent of the blend with some of the best wines 100 percent Gargenega.

Key term: Classico is a term used in Italy to describe wines made of grapes sourced from the traditional area or region of vineyards that are often sloping and elevated lands.